About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Thursday, July 26, 2012

Litmus Test for Leadership

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch

power of speech

“Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Bnei Yiroel, saying, “This is the thing that Hashem has commanded (30:2).

Only in this section dealing with nedorim and in the one dealing with shechutei chutz (korbanos slaughtered outside the confines of the Bais Hamikdosh) does it say, “This is the thing.”

Generally speaking, Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Torah by Hashem briefly, but he conveyed it to the heads of the shevotim in a much more detailed fashion. Only in these two sections did Moshe convey what he had been taught by Hashem to the heads of the shevotim in exactly the same concise manner in which he had heard it, and it was only the heads of the shevotim who explained the halachos of these two sections to the rest of the nation more elaborately.

Nedorim teach us about the immense power of speech. Through them, a person can prohibit certain actions on himself, giving them a force equivalent to an absolute Torah prohibition, which, in certain circumstances, he cannot retract. Similarly, by sanctifying an animal with his mouth, he becomes liable to koreis if he proceeds to profane his statement by slaughtering the animal outside the Bais Hamikdosh. In everyday life, too, life and death are in the power of the tongue.

By adding not even one word in his speech to the heads of the shevotim regarding these halochos pertaining to speech, Moshe Rabbeinu was emphasizing how careful we have to be not to speak more than necessary, and to use our ability to speak, which is the most important attribute that distinguishes us from the animals, wisely and with circumspection.

oaths to state the truth

The Sifri states that one should not take an oath even to confirm the truth, and that if one does so, it is tantamount to swearing about a lie. How are we to can understand this?

The posuk states, “You shall fear Hashem, your G-d, worship Him, and cleave to Him and swear by His Name” (Devorim 10:20). Only someone who fears Hashem and keeps his promises to serve Him properly can swear by His Name, since he can claim that just like I do not deceive Hashem, so will I not swear falsely now. However, since most of us do not keep our promises to Hashem to behave the way we should, and therefore cannot make such a claim, we should refrain from taking an oath even to declare the truth.

Fear of fire

“And Hashem will forgive her (30:6).

Rashi brings the Gemara (Nazir 23a) that this refers to a woman who made a vow to become a nozir and her husband heard the vow and annulled it without her knowledge. She then transgressed her vow by drinking wine or coming into contact with a dead person. This woman requires forgiveness, even though, in reality, her vow had been annulled. The Gemara (Kiddushin 81b) says that Rabi Akiva cried when he reached this posuk, saying that if the Torah says that someone who intends to eat pork and inadvertently eats kosher meat requires atonement, then if someone who intends to eat pork and in fact does so, how are much more so does he require atonement?

What point regarding intentional sins did Rabi Akiva become aware of?

Whenever someone commits a sin, aside from the damage caused by transgressing the word of Hashem, he also sins through his very thoughts and desires to commit a sin, which, in and of themselves, are considered to be a great sin requiring forgiveness. The person who inadvertently ate kosher meat did not perform any sinful act, but he still requires atonement for his evil intention to eat chazer.

Rabi Akiva began to realize that as part of our atonement for intentional sins too, it is not sufficient to just undertake to refrain from that sin in the future. Rather, we must aspire to uproot our desire to sin altogether to the point where we no longer feel any such desire. Just like a person instinctively fears fire and is afraid to even approach it, so should a person feel towards committing a sin or even coming close to doing so.

annual judgment

“He shall bear her iniquity (30:16).

This refers to the opposite situation, where a husband pretends to annul his wife's vow after having upheld it. He only tells his wife about the annulment, which in reality had no effect. The wife then acts as if her vow had actually been annulled. The posuk tells us that the husband bears complete responsibility for his wife's inadvertent sins committed as a result of his deceit.         The Sifri adds that this teaches us that anyone who causes another person to stumble receives the punishment for that other person's actions, bearing their iniquity as if they themselves had actually committed it.

All the more so if someone assists or is instrumental in the performance of another person's mitzvos. It is considered as if he himself performed those mitzvos, and he has a share in the reward for those actions. This is yet another incentive for getting involved in outreach work.

Similarly, a person is judged every year on the day of his death. Although a person is judged immediately after he dies, this process is repeated on an annual basis. If the deceased caused other people to sin during his lifetime, he is judged every year for those actions and their ramifications since he died. If he caused others to perform mitzvos and good deeds during his lifetime, his soul becomes elevated on his annual judgment due to all the actions performed in the meantime by those people, and by others as a result, in a never-ending chain of events. The yahrtzeit of a tzaddik is considered to be a festive occasion (hilula), because the assumption is that he only had a positive influence on other people while he was alive, and we celebrate the further elevation of his soul due to all the actions performed since his petirah.

Litmus test for Jewish leaders

“From the thousands of Yisroel one thousand was given over for each tribe, twelve thousand armed for battle (31:6). Rashi: “This indicates the virtues of Jewish shepherds [leaders] - how cherished they were by the Jews. Before they had heard of his death, it says, Just a little longer and they will stone me,’ but as soon as they heard that Moshe’s death was contingent upon the revenge against Midyan, they refused to go, until they were given over against their will.

The Satmar Rov, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l, asked two questions on this Sifri cited by Rashi. Firstly, it should say that this indicates the virtues of the Jews, not of their leaders. Secondly, how can the Medrash compare these two pesukim? “Just a little longer and they will stone me” refers to the statement by the Eirev Rav as opposed to the refusal by the people to hasten the death of Moshe.

The answer is that the sign of a true Jewish leader is when the wicked hate him, because he rebukes them for their deeds, and the righteous love him for his saintly character and loving rebuke. If the wicked praise him, that should make him worry about whether he is performing his job properly. Here, too, the Eirev Eav despised Moshe Rabbeinu so much that he was worried that they would stone him, but the majority of the nation loved and respected him so much that they were unwilling to hasten his demise by engaging Midyan in a battle. The fact that the wicked hated him indicated that he was doing what he had to well.

Action before intellect

“A thousand from each tribe (31:6).

The Medrash says that none of the tzaddikim who were sent to the war against Midyan put on their tefillin shel rosh before their tefillin shel yad. The tefillin shel rosh symbolizes the dedication of our minds to Hashem, whereas the tefillin shel yad symbolizes our service of Hashem through active mitzvos. Moshe Rabbeinu was not interested in philosophers with a tenuous connection to Torah observance.

We, too, must keep the mitzvos because Hashem commanded us to, even if we do not comprehend the reasons for them. Only once we have become punctilious about our mitzvah observance should we start delving into their profound reasons and endeavor to develop our devotion to Hashem through those mitzvos.

For this reason, too, someone who puts on only tefillin shel yad has fulfilled the mitzvah of tefillin, but someone who puts on only tefillin shel rosh has not fulfilled the mitzvah properly. The emphasis is always on naaseh¸ the active unquestioning performance of mitzvos before nishma, intellectualizing, and even before emotional devotion.

Moshe Rabbeinu wanted only first-rate tzaddikim who would perform the Divine commandment of avenging ourselves against Midyan, without wondering about the ethical justification for destroying the men, women and boys of a whole nation. He wanted people who subjugated their intellect to the Divine Will.

mitzvas yishuv Eretz Yisroel

“And you shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein (33:53).

The commandment to dwell in Eretz Yisroel is made conditional on driving out not only idolatrous inhabitants, but also idolatry. Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l was once asked why he did not call for all the Jews in the Diaspora to come and live in Eretz Yisroel in order to fulfill the important mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel.

He replied that we can learn from the precedent of the mitzvah of milah, which is not less important than mitzvas yishuv Eretz Yisroel. After all, it even overrides Shabbos, and yet if someone had two sons who died as a result of the performance of this mitzvah, the third son is not circumcised. Similarly, concluded Rav Sonnenfeld, unfortunately, many people suffer a spiritual death, which is worse than physical death, due to the heretical atmosphere prevalent in Eretz Yisroel, and so he cannot encourage people to come and live here, because a person is not obligated to expose himself to such a danger, and he must wait to fulfill this mitzvah until he is certain that no danger will be posed to his spiritual future or that of his family as a result of living here.

Positive environments

“Among the cities you shall give to the Levi’im shall be six cities of refuge (35:6).

The arei miklot, cities of refuge, were meant to be places where those who had unintentionally killed someone were forced to spend time away from their family and friends to determine what might have led to this terrible event, to reassess their spiritual status, and to repent. The cities populated by the Levi’im were the most appropriate ones to house the arei miklot, because the Levi’im, who dedicated their lives to serving Hashem and instructing others how to do so, were likely to have the best influence on the inadvertent murderers.

Similarly, baalei teshuvah should move away from their friends and former environment and relocate to places of Torah, where they can rejuvenate themselves spiritually. This process of rejuvenation is likely to be facilitated by absorbing all the positive things in their new surroundings.